This Business of Code Code
1941 QST Article
in Morse code is no longer required as part of obtaining an Amateur
Radio license. A proposal to drop the 5 wpm requirement was first floated
by the FCC in 2005. It was actually at the request of the ARRL; to wit,
"In 2004, the League called on the FCC to create a new entry-level license,
reduce the number of actual license classes to three and drop the Morse
code testing requirement for all classes except for Amateur Extra."
February 1941 QST
of Contents]These articles are scanned and OCRed from old editions of the
ARRL's QST magazine. Here is a list of the
QST articles I have already posted. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
FCC Proposes Dropping Morse Code Requirement Entirely
there is no code requirement for any license class, not even the
A lot of Hams are not happy about it, but
times have changed and the need for code proficiency just is not needed
anymore because of the plethora of communications formats available.
No small part of the ARRL's motivation for requesting that code proficiency
be dropped for the entry level licenses was that the ARRL believed that
many people who otherwise might be getting licenses were putting off
doing so specifically because of the Morse code requirement.
See all available
vintage QST articles.
This Business of Code
Suggestions for Improving Your Code Proficiency
By John Huntoon (W1LVQ)
to the last survey made by the League's Communications Department, 60
percent of amateur activity consists of c.w. telegraph operation. At
the risk of boring the other 40 percent of you - though that chance
is slim if one judges by the interest manifested by all of amateur radio
in the Code Proficiency Program - I would like to talk about the business
of sending and receiving code.
Too little attention is
paid by the average amateur to acquiring skill in this basic form of
radio communication. We amateurs spend money on equipment, time in building
it, care in designing antenna systems - all excellent policies, to be
sure - but why stop there? Too few of us realize that in communication,
the basic function for which we have worked to gain our licenses, we
are known to the world by the way we handle our signals . . . what listeners
hear as well as what they see on the S-meter. Paderewski did not become
a great pianist by altering his piano's sounding board to see if he
could get more volume!
is true that technical considerations enter into the production of a
good note and clean keying, but I prefer to think that the fist itself,
a direct product of the operator himself, is the main criterion by which
the individual is judged. We can spend $10 or $10,000 on station equipment,
but we can't buy a good fist. Good operating goes along with a good
fist. It is important, then, that we amateurs give attention to how
we send as well as to what equipment we use to send it. So, let's delve
into it a bit.
It is well to point out here one fundamental
thing which is true of every art and particularly so of code operating:
real progress requires constant and applied practice. There are no shortcuts;
we have to be willing to do it the hard way.
"take the code apart." It is, really, another language. It is a conversion
of intelligence, by letters of the alphabet, into signals which may
be transmitted by wire or radio or visually, and then intercepted and
deciphered back into intelligence. Specifically, it is a substitution
of various combinations of signals and interim spaces for the 26 letters
of the alphabet, ten numerals, various punctuation marks and special
When this system was devised, two of the elements
comprising the code equivalents of letters were called the dot and the
dash (the third element is the oft-forgotten space). This dot-and-dash
conception may have been satisfactory back in wire telegraph days, but
it causes a great handicap to those who wish to acquire skill in radio
code work. As far as radio communication is concerned, the code should
be thought of in terms of sound - dits and dahs, rather than as they
are pictured on paper as dots and dashes. One wishing to improve his
ability to handle code, be he just beginning or well along in his study,
will have made much progress the day he begins to think of code solely
in terms of sound. The principle is by no means new, but it cannot be
stressed too strongly.
Let me digress from code a moment
to show why. Repeat slowly to yourself the letter "i." It is not a single
pure sound, but rather is enunciated by saying rapidly in succession
the sounds "ah" (as in father) and "ee." You use the sound "i" so often
you probably never noticed that; and what is more important, you learned
it right, as one sound instead of a combination of others. Why then
do we learn code letters as combinations of sounds instead of as sound
units in themselves? If you have been taught to say "i" by the combination
of "ah" and "ee," you probably would have had one devil of a time getting
the "i" sound down pat. Another example in phonetics is the letter "u,"
which is formed by saying "ee" and "oo" in rapid succession. When you
hear it, you don't think of the letters "ee" and "oo," do you? That's
because you learned it as a unit. And that is why code should be learned
in units of letters rather even than dits and dahs.
we learn the code in that way, we make the path of progress much easier;
we shortly learn whole words by their code sounds rather than by their
individual letters. A 25-word-per-minute man when listening to 35- or
40-w.p.m. transmission can easily pick out the short words such as "and,"
"the," "stop" and others. Why? Because he has heard them 80 often that
they have become indelibly fixed in his mind as wordsounds. At that
speed he doesn't hear dits and dahs, or even letter units; it is as
if someone had actually spoken the word to him.
Don't get the idea that an author with a W1L . . . call is being
presumptuous when he writes a story on code, because you'd be very
wrong in this case. WILVQ is just another disguise for ex- W9KJY,
a fellow who really knows his dits. Besides being one of the fastest
amateur operators in the country, John Huntoon has given the subject
considerable thought, and we think you'll find his ideas both interesting
The word "the" in Spanish is "el"; in French, "le," In code, it is the
sound "dah didididit dit." It's merely another means of expression,
another language - but not a combination of "dots and dashes."
Perhaps you are one of those who are "stuck" at some speed and can't
seem to increase from that point. If so, the trouble doubtless is that
you, whether you realize it or not, must take each code character and
put it through a mental routine to get the letter for which it stands.
You hear the sound "didah," must mentally convert it into "dot-dash"
(ugh!) and from there, into the letter "a." You have to use this process
because that is the way you learned it and you have not given conscious
effort to overcome that fault. Your mind should work like a telegraph
printer: producing the letter simultaneously with reception of the
code signal - just as if it were spoken.
Why do students of
music attend concerts, keep a close watch on the schedule of radio broadcast
programs for good music, and buy recordings of the great artists? Because,
of course, they want to get the feel of the music. They know the maestro
probably can render the piece more perfectly than any other person.
They want to know how the pieces they are studying sound when played
correctly. And there is our cue.
We, too, must get the feel
of the code, and know how it sounds when sent correctly. We have to
get fixed in our minds, indelibly, the correct formation of each and
every letter and mark in dit-dah sound language and, later, of as many
complete words as possible. And, of course, there's one excellent way
to do it: listening to commercial tape sending.
suggested procedure is for already-licensed amateurs, persons who know
the code at a speed of 15 words per minute or more. By reference to
press and weather schedules in old Call Books, the list of press transmissions
recommended in QST's "Operating News" section for codepractice, or
by actually searching them out on the air, find a station or two with
automatic keying sending just a bit below your maximum speed - i.e.,
so you can just read it (not necessarily copy it down) solid. Then
stick to him by the hour; hang onto every letter, word and phrase. Listen
as you would at a musical concert; notice the formation of each letter
and the spaces left between letters and words. Probably you will notice
his businesslike "dahdidahdit" for "c," while you blush in remembering
your own "dawwwdidawwdit." Notice the proportion in length of dits to
dahs; what seem like exaggerated spaces between words (because you've
probably been running yours together), and a score of other details
where his sending is different than yours would show up in the same
text. Take heed - and profit. Half an hour a night of just listening
will work wonders with your code ability after a couple of weeks.
Even better, however, would be your locating a commercial tape
station sending double. Man, here is where you can really get some unequalled
practice! Rig up an audio oscillator for your bug or key, separate from
the receiver, and as each word comes through initially, fix it in your
mind. Then, as the tape repeats it, send the same word simultaneously
with the tape, as closely to perfect synchronism as possible. Perhaps
you will find yourself leaving too much or too little space between
characters, or making certain dahs too long - these are the most common
errors. Remember that all inaccuracies are yours, and profit accordingly.
By such constant practice you will learn the proper rhythm and precision
of perfect code. It's bound to work itself, subconsciously, into your
A code instruction machine, particularly one where
long spaces are left between each letter on the tape so the student
may repeat it back, can be used if suitable commercial transmissions
are not found. If you can't find a commercial station sending double,
one sending straight press can substitute in a minor way. When a long
word comes along, as soon as you get the first few letters you can often
guess the remainder, and then send with key and oscillator the rest
of the letters in the word in synchronism (we hope!) with the tape.
Ideal practice can be obtained by using the WIA W official broadcasts.
After you have copied the text once, you can use it to send on an oscillator
simultaneously with WIA W on subsequent transmissions during the week
when it is repeated. If you don't have and can't get an audio oscillator,
whistling the characters aloud will accomplish nearly the same purpose.
When sending with key or bug, whether with an audio oscillator for
practice or when actually on the air, let your mind be thinking of the
sound of each character as it is sent. This can be accomplished by softly
whistling each character in synchronism with the key.
of this sort will not only let you send better code, but shortly will
increase your receiving and sending speeds. But don't rush it let
it come naturally. Keep your sending speed well below your receiving
ability; never under any circumstances send as fast as you can receive.
Those who do so have a conception of the code that is mechanical rather
Direct copy on the typewriter at high speeds should
be the eventual objective of every licensed amateur. Complete success
will not come unless the amateur is an accomplished touch typist; two-fingered
typing will not allow you to receive at speed much greater than you
can put down with pencil. For any speed in code reception, you have
to be able to type automatically and without conscious effort. A touch-typing
course for you lads still in school, an evening school class for those
past that stage, or perhaps a home-study course will do the trick for
Practice copying at a steady speed. Don't listen
and then type ferociously for a second _ . _ and listen . . . and type
hurriedly again. Your typing must be dissociated, consciously, from
Often we hear the question, "How can I learn to
copy behind?" Too many such amateurs attempt to copy behind before
their code ability reaches the necessary stage. I do not mean in rate
of speed, but rather in manner of copying. That is, to successfully
copy behind, an operator must have reached the point where he is reading
word-sounds, and not letters. A person cannot carry a series of letters
in his mind any more than he can numbers (that's why we fellows carry
those little red phone number books), but if he associates them as complete
words it is not difficult. Furthermore, when an operator copies individual
letters, he must set the text down in letter units, and that forces
him to write (pencil or mill) with conscious effort - which completely
blocks any attempt to copy behind.
Then what is the way to copy
behind? Merely the same listening practice suggested above. You've got
to make this language of code a word-language to your mind. You will
know when you have reached this stage because suddenly you will automatically
begin to copy behind, so don't force the issue.
It all gets
back to the same thing - practice and habit. As far as the code goes,
even today when driving alone in a car or walking alone, I subconsciously
begin to whistle code. I sometimes drive the household to near insanity
by attempting to sing arias when shaving before the bathroom mirror;
but just as often I pretend to be a big bad commercial sending V-wheels,
or W1AW sending its nightly QST broadcast. Try it. You'll find yourself
getting quite chummy with code.
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